Ramen Quest

Nobuko Miyamoto and Juzo Itami, NYC, 4/12/88

Nobuko Miyamoto and Juzo Itami, NYC, 4/12/88

There are other food films, of course (I’m partial to “Babette’s Feast,” for the obvious reason), but Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo” (1985) is the perfect one, cleverly, raucously, reflecting everything we want/need from food, delivering everything we want/need from film.

The central story features a young widow, Tampopo (perfectly played by Itami’s wife Nobuko Miyamoto, mostly playing down her beauty), running a (at best) second-rate, dreary noodle shop, her bullied son and the unlikely group of guys that forms to help her make her restaurant “worth a special trip.”

Tampopo’s first two ramen instructors, Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki), square-jawed handsome, wearing a cowboy hat, and his sidekick, Gun (a young Ken Watanabe), arrive in a big blue truck on a dark and stormy night. Her consultants soon include a strongman/contractor, a former ob/gyn, and a chef who also works as a chauffeur. Her rigorous education incorporates jogging, eating at notable ramen shops, corporate espionage, the endless application of knowledge acquired, the refining of technique and esthetics, and wearing an elegant toque.

The main proceedings are punctuated with vignettes (only some of which directly impact Tampopo’s story). A yakuza and his girlfriend are first seen breaking the fourth wall at the picture show as their dinner is being served. These two lovelies in white (the better to make stains, my dear) leave any subtlety about the connection between food and sex hilariously behind. The ex-ob/gyn and his homeless buddies, gourmets all, eat out of the dumpsters behind high-end restaurants. A devoted mother cooks a final rice dish for her family before keeling over.

Completing her training, Tampopo triumphs with one last and sublime meal for her friends. As a long line forms outside her newly renovated  shop, Goro and Gun, their work done, get into their truck. Her other mentors melt away. The film closes with an increasingly tight shot of a baby enjoying the first yummy*.

“Tampopo,” returning to theaters for the first time in nearly 30 years, in a gorgeous new 4K restoration, will open at Film Forum today for a two-week run, and on Friday, October 28 at the Landmark NuArt in Los Angeles. A national rollout will follow.

There will be Q&As with Nobuko Miyamoto at Film Forum today at 7:00 pm and Saturday, October at 2:45 pm, and she will intro the 5:20 pm show. Film Forum will be serving popcorn from Lucky Peach with special ramen popcorn seasoning.

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Celebrating the Interdisciplinary Work of Alexander Kluge

Alexander Kluge, Munich, 6/24/82

Alexander Kluge, Munich, 6/24/82

Alexander Kluge, filmmaker, is less well-known in the United States than his compatriots Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders. His reputation here “is still narrowly associated with the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto,” which declared the need for a new German film.

But Kluge is also “one of the undisputed intellectual giants of postwar Germany,” a writer, theorist, and television pioneer, founding the Development Company for Television Program (DCTP) in 1987. His prolific career has spanned nearly six decades. A long weekend of programming at Goethe-Institut, Anthology Film Archives and MoMA catches New York up with his important interdisciplinary oeuvre.

Kluge will participate in “a soiree with literature, film, and music with special guest, Brooklyn-based author Ben Lerner” at the Goethe-Institut on Sunday October 23 at 5:30 pm. The evening will include a reading and discussion of Kluge’s 2015 book “The Great Hour of Kong” (Kongs große Stunde).

On Friday, October 21 and Saturday, October 22, Anthology Film Archives, which inaugurated its 22 Second Avenue location in 1988 with an Alexander Kluge retrospective, will screen of some of his acclaimed features from the 1960s-1980s, and also provide the “rare opportunity to dip into the vast body of video work he’s created over the past 30 years.”  Kluge will be in person at Saturday’s 3:00 pm, 5:30 pm and 8:45 pm screenings.

A program produced by Kluge especially for MoMA‘s Modern Mondays, “consists of three parts: the first centering on events like ‘Bataclan’ (Paris attacks, November 13, 2015), the second on labor and security (Tchernobyl, with Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich), and the third on the strange answers that operas give to our time.” A conversation with the artist will follow each section. (Monday, October 24, 7:00 pm.)

Alexander Kluge, Munich, 6/24/82

Alexander Kluge, Munich, 6/24/82

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Pierre Étaix 1928-2016

Pierre Étaix, NYC, 10/18/12

Pierre Étaix, NYC, 10/18/12

Pierre Étaix, the incomparable French comedic actor, director and screenwriter died in Paris on Friday. During Film Forum’s 2012 festival celebrating Étaix, in a post titled “Where have You Been All My Life,” I wrote:

Pierre Étaix, director and actor, is a comedic genius and a cinematic innovator whose work–five features and three shorts, made in the 60s–long unseen because of tangled rights issues, had fallen into obscurity.  Neither I nor any of my constantly moviegoing  friends had heard of him before a few weeks ago.  But now, finally, Étaix’s brilliant, uproariously funny oeuvre is available to be rediscovered.

Laughter in a crowded theater can be contagious, even if the film is of just average appeal.  The press screening I went to of “Heureux Anniversaire” (Academy Award winner for Best Live Action Short of 1962) and “Le Grand Amour” was uncrowded.  I sat alone in my row, choking and rolling with laughter.

“Le Grand Amour” (which Étaix co-wrote with Buñuel collaborator,  Jean-Claude Carrière) follows a man (played by Étaix), on the cusp of middle age and its crisis, who after 15 years of marriage, is leaving his options open–and falls hard for his lovely, barely-legal new secretary. In an incomparable dream sequence, his bed becomes a car (a very different interpretation of traveling on rural French roads than that in Godard’s “Weekend”).  He picks up his crush and passes other bed/autos–broken down, involved in accidents, farm tractors at work–before pulling off into a secluded forest glade.

I like to laugh.  I like funny people.  An old friend who did a stint writing for Letterman would try out gags on me and if I laughed, he sometimes considered them less than rigorous, calling me “an easy laugh.” (Ha, ha.)  But it’s unlikely anyone will be able to resist Étaix’s endlessly inventive verbal and visual wit and graceful physical comedy.

I was privileged (and a bit star-struck, as Jenny noted) to photograph and talk (with translation help provided by his wife Odile) to Monsieur Étaix this week.  He described Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd as “the whole thing,” auteurs.

Undeniably, so was he.

A collector’s set of Etaix’s work is available from The Criterion Collection.

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NYFF54: The Divine Miss H

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert

The film critic J. Hoberman has said that Isabelle Huppert is “possibly the most essential actor in the world.” (Essential, indeed–try imagining another actor in any of her signature roles, from “The Piano Teacher,” to several collaborations with Chabrol, and going all the way back to “Going Places.”)

A pair of new (and very different) films starring La (Super) Huppert are screening in the Main Slate during NYFF54’s final weekend. In Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Things to Come,” she’s Natalie, a middle-aged philosophy professor in Paris, realizing that her relationships and life are inexorably changing, and she responds by simply continuing on, with something akin to optimism.

Paul Verhoeven’s first film in a decade, “Elle,” stars Huppert as Michèle, the CEO of a video game company, who survives a brutal rape in her elegant house, and reacts in an unlikely way. The director infuses the proceedings with some very dark humor.

(According to IMDb, in addition to the NYFF54 selections, Huppert made eight features that will be in the theaters–at least in France–in 2016 and 2017, including new work from Michael Haneke and Serge Bozon. I’m hoping all of them cross the Atlantic.)

“Things to Come” will screen on Friday, October 14 at 6:00 pm and Saturday, October 15 at 3:00 pm. “Elle” will be shown on Friday, October 14 at 9:00 pm and Saturday, October 15 at 3:00 pm.

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Deconstructing the Sofa (Working Like a Dog)

Ryder, NYC, 2016

Ryder, NYC, 2016

I never liked Mark’s high-backed Vico Magistretti sofa. But all four of our Labs have considered its red wool the ultimate in comfiness for nap time.

Before we realized how much we’d accommodate our dogs (happily, with love), and how much physical, emotional and psychic space we’d devote to them, we tried coating the sofa with magazines to discourage Willie (first-born schmoo) from using it. He swept them off. Grover and Leo, Willie’s beneficiaries, climbed up without incident and mostly hung out calmly.

It’s sweet Ryder (the fourth-born), who has clawed through the cover or pushed it up at a an edge and dug deeply into the lining and the foam, making a nest.

In his defense the foam had already started disintegrating quite a bit, and about a year ago we got a new sofa, with an integral chaise, sleek in grey wool with chrome legs. As we moved the Magistretti to the hallway, on its way to the curb for big garbage pick-up, Ryder looked at it, with a longing bordering on panic. Fine, it could stay in my studio for a few weeks, to prevent him from colonizing the new sofa. And, covered with a blue sheet, that’s where it remains. Ryder continues to adjust it (when necessary).

Happy eighth birthday, beloved Pie Pie. With marrow bones too taxing for Leo’s weakened teeth, today’s celebratory treats will be lots and lots of beef and biscuits (including the pumpkin “crinkly fries” Natasha and Maggie brought last weekend).

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NYFF54: Special Events (Lives of the Players, Life of the Play)

Harold Prince, NYC, 9/17/87

Harold Prince, NYC, 9/17/87

On November 16, 1981, after weeks of hectic previews, “Merrily We Roll Along,” Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince’s latest collaboration, opened at Broadway’s Alvin Theater. And shockingly, closed after just 16 performances, stunning the two “theater gods”–and the bulk of the theater community–who had grown accustomed to their critical and financial success.

Lonny Price, a suburban kid who “didn’t fit in” found that theater was a “world he could disappear into.” At 15, he wrote to Prince and was offered a job as an office boy. At 22, a Juilliard dropout, he was cast as Charley Kringas, one of the three leads in Prince and Sondheim’s radical restructuring of George S. Kaufman and Moss Heart’s comedy. His poignant and entertaining new documentary, “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” world premiering in the Special Events section, tells “Merrily’s” 35-year story, with archival and contemporary footage, photographs and interviews. The lives in the play, the lives of the players and the life of the play itself have deep and fascinating parallels.

Director and producer Prince, to emphasize the play’s theme of “youth and what happens to it” reversed the play’s chronology for the musical, with the characters growing younger in each scene, beginning as cynical and bitter adults and ending as bright-eyed and optimistic high school students. The casting was equally radical, with Prince, Sondheim and their team choosing largely unknown actors aged 16 to 25.

The thrill for the young actors of being selected from a crowd of 800 hopefuls and working with their idols in what Prince calls “the best rehearsal experience of my life” colored the following decades. In interviews, with varying degrees of longing, cast members talk about their lives. Tonya Pinkins, Jim Walton, and Price himself carved out successful careers in the theater. Terry Finn acted in movies. Ann Morrison moved to Florida and lovingly worked with mentally disabled adults. Abby Pogreben became a journalist and author. And Jason Alexander (another suburban misfit), who won a Tony at 29, wonders what a theater career might have been like if there hadn’t been a George Costanza.

Twenty-one years after its disastrous Broadway run, Price, working for Musical Theater Works, staged a concert version of “Merrily” as a benefit with most of the original cast. Sondheim and Prince (“one of the most exciting nights of my life”) were in the audience, where people were exuberantly clogging the aisles (rather than fleeing up them, as in 1981). The panned play, with its well-known and beloved original cast album, recorded the day after the final performance, had become a beloved classic.

“Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” will screen on Sunday, October 9 at 6:00 pm (with Stephen Sondheim, Lonny Price and other special guests in person), Monday, October, 10 at 6:30 pm and Sunday, October 16 at 12:15 pm.

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NYFF54: Revivals (Paris, Kentucky*)

Barbara Kopple. NYC, 2/21/92

Barbara Kopple. NYC, 2/21/92

The great filmmaker Barbara Kopple, with her crew, spent more than a year documenting the coal miners’ strike at the Eastover Mining Company’s Brookside (Kentucky) Mine, which began when the firm refused to sign a contract with its newly unionized workers. In her staggeringly powerful film, “Harlan County USA” (1976), the fierce struggle, marked by violent battles between armed “representatives” of the company and the picketing miners, is given context with background on the difficult lives of the miners and their families, and history of the United Mine Workers of America union.

Forty years after premiering at the New York Film Festival, “Harlan County USA” returns in the Revivals section and will screen on Friday, October 7 at 6:00 pm. The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary.

(When I photographed Kopple, she’d won two. I hadn’t yet met Oscar in person and was surprised by the substantial weight of the world’s most famous figurine and asked Kopple to use them as if they were exercise weights, which might have worked, been funny, in a video but didn’t make sense a single image.)

Three Jacques Rivette shorts, “Aux quatre coins” (1949), “La quadrille” (1950)–featuring a startlingly young Jean-Luc Godard–and “Le divertissement” (1952), all shot in Paris, are also included in Revivals. The films, rediscovered this year by Véronique Rivette and digitally restored by the Cinémathèque française, provide a view of the New Wave master discovering his themes and “approach to mise-en-scène.” The program will be shown on Saturday, October 8 at 1:00 pm and Saturday, October 15 at 3:30 pm.

Additional highlights in the Revivals section include”Panique,” directed by Julien Duvivier (Friday, October 14 at 6:45), Robert Bresson’s “L’argent” (Wednesday, October 12 at 6:30 pm), and Marlon Brando’s sole directorial effort, “One-Eyed Jacks,” in which he also stars (Sunday, October 9 at 12:00 pm).

*Obviously a little joke, referencing a 1984 film by Wim Wenders.

Jacques Rivette, NYC, 9/28/01

Jacques Rivette, NYC, 9/28/01

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